Christmas Parties in the Modern Workplace: Getting the Festive Balance Right

A Christmas party can be an ideal way to celebrate team achievements, show appreciation to employees for their hard work throughout the year, and to encourage motivation, loyalty and staff retention in the New Year.

With enhanced focus on the health and wellbeing of employees, we look at some precautionary measures to ensure your Christmas party is remembered for all the right reasons.

Welcome one and all

Remember to invite all employees to the party even if absent through sickness, maternity or paternity to create a fully inclusive event, avoiding any unconscious exclusion or disengagement.

Be aware that not all staff may celebrate Christmas. Some religions and faiths do not allow the consumption of alcohol or certain foods, and of course some of the team may not be old enough to drink, so consider what alternatives are required to make your party welcoming for all.

Additionally, certain venues may be unsuitable for staff with disabilities. Failure to consider this may drastically damage your relationship with them and could lead to claims of discrimination.

Reminder of policies

The run up to the Christmas party is an ideal time to check that the relevant policies are up to date and fit for purpose for today’s modern workplace. Consider introducing a social events policy or ‘Christmas Party Statement’.

Send an email to employees prior to the event reminding them of the company’s expectations, being clear on what will be considered inappropriate behaviour. Gently remind them of their obligations and that they remain bound by the terms and conditions of their employment at the event.

A ‘Christmas Party Statement’ may also highlight the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and consequences of lateness or non-attendance the day after.

In any workplace, an acceptable use policy for social media is strongly advised. Ahead of the Christmas party it would be wise to remind employees to respect the privacy of colleagues and videos or photos that may cause embarrassment or bring bad publicity to the organisation will not be tolerated.

Have yourself a (moderately) merry Christmas

A significant proportion of tribunal claims that arise from many Christmas parties are fuelled by alcohol. Employers may think about handing out drink tokens to help regulate consumption as employees tend to drink far more than usual when alcohol is flowing freely.

Companies should also ensure there is plenty of water and soft drinks available as well as food so that employees are not drinking on an empty stomach.

Mistletoe kisses

A kiss under mistletoe has long been a part of Christmas traditions. With the #MeToo movement and a growing awareness of what is and isn’t considered appropriate behaviour in the workplace, organisations need to proactively tackle the threat of sexual harassment by ensuring staff are aware of equal opportunities, bullying and harassment policies prior to attending the party.

Punch drunk

Let’s not forget about the after party. Employers are not relieved of risk just because the workforce has left the event. In 2018, the Court of Appeal found an employer liable for its ‘significantly inebriated’ managing director’s actions in drunkenly assaulting an employee during post-Christmas party drinks.

The story offers a sobering example of what happens when tension and pent up emotion is mixed with free-flowing alcohol.

Driving home for Christmas

Legally there is an implied duty of care towards employees in the course of their employment, and the Christmas party comes under this definition.

While it is not fully the responsibility of the organisation to make sure that staff get home safely after the Christmas party, an employer may consider it their duty of care to consider how employees can get home.

An email beforehand advising staff to plan their journey home, providing taxi numbers or arranging hired transport if funds allow, will ensure everyone can get home safely.

Sobering thoughts

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the wrongful acts of employees committed ‘in the course of employment’, regardless of its location.

Businesses could face a constructive dismissal claim if a manager drinks too much and decides to tell his team what he really thinks of them or promises a pay rise that is forgotten about the next morning. Generally, employers and management should try to avoid conversations that involve commercially sensitive topics such as pay, bonuses, career prospects or office gossip.

Consider nominating a member of management to refrain from drinking alcohol to be able to deflect any difficult conversations and keep a watchful eye on any intoxicated employees, and as a matter of good practice.

Returning to normalcy

The Christmas party may be over but tomorrow is business as usual! Lure your employees back to the workplace with the promise of bacon and sausage sandwiches. Those on the fence about coming in, surely nursing a sore head, will be tempted by the promise of a free breakfast. It’ll also present a more casual, friendly atmosphere that sets the tone for the rest of the day. Employees, undoubtedly sheepish following the previous evening’s shenanigans, will be grateful for the gentle welcome and be more inclined to show up. It’s important to create a welcoming atmosphere, and what better way to do so than free food and coffee?